If you’re lucky, you’re living a life with very little exposure to toxic people.
But unfortunately, it’s next to impossible that you have no contact with toxic people whatsoever. After all, they can be found everywhere and pop up when you least expect it.
That new coworker who you just met and seemed to hit it off with could end up being horribly manipulative. The person you’re dating and starting to feel really good about could actually be playing you.
Like toxic chemicals, you can only go so far to protect yourself from exposure to toxic people. Eventually, you will have to deal with their effects when you do come into contact with them, and to do that successfully; it pays to have some strategies prepared.
If you can do some simple things that will take their power away, they won’t be able to hurt or manipulate you. You may even be able to protect the people around you from their nasty influence as well.
Arm yourself with these six psychological tricks to disarm toxic people in your life and save yourself from future strife!
1) Refuse to engage
Savvy netizens will recognize the acronym DNFTT – Do Not Feed the Trolls.
This is great advice not to respond to horrible online comments lest you play into a troll’s hands. And it applies just as well to the real world.
You know what it’s like.
You pop on a YouTube video from one of your favorite artists only to see a comment in all caps screaming, “THIS GUY IS A PHONEY BALONEY!!!!” It could even be something worse than that!
Ooh, it makes your blood boil, and your first instinct is to jump to the defense of the artist in question. But then sober second thought kicks in.
You remember that feeding trolls just gives them the attention that they’re seeking through their blatantly aggressive and antisocial behavior.
So you delete that flaming comment before you send it and choose to laugh it off instead.
What you’ve just done is you’ve refused to engage with a toxic person and by doing so, you’ve won the round. They’ve got nothing from their provocative behavior, and you’ve already put it behind you.
That’s one more troll denied and defeated – case closed.
2) Keep it public
I know you can’t always simply ignore a problem and expect it to go away.
While some people get totally deflated when you don’t engage with them, others will just try harder to come after you.
If this is the case, one of the best things you can do with a toxic person is to keep everything out in the open. And you can do this by keeping things public.
Obviously, you only want to go down this route if you’re sure you’re in the right, and they have nothing on you that could embarrass or discredit you.
I had a boss, one who I found very sneaky and manipulative. Long story short, she was at one point trying to get me to do a big pile of extra work that wasn’t my responsibility, and she wanted me to do it for free even though I was hourly and it would take extra time.
At first, she came to me in my shared office and explained the situation and what she wanted from me. When I declined and told her that it wasn’t fair or reasonable to ask me to do this extra work, guess what her response was?
“Why don’t we go talk about this in my office?”
Now, I knew she had no reason to change the setting except that her office was private, and mine had us talking in front of my coworkers. It was a power move designed to give her the upper hand so she could try to manipulate me.
So I said I wasn’t sure what else there was to say, but she could certainly say it in front of my colleagues.
By keeping it public, I managed to deflate her attempt and protect myself from being unfairly used.
I’m still pretty proud of that one!
3) Don’t let their point of view dominate
People who are toxic and skilled at manipulation will often try to rewrite history.
They’ll claim that they told you important information when they didn’t or deny doing things that they did.
When they try to distort reality, what they’re doing is attempting to gaslight you. This means they’re attacking your version of reality and trying to force you to accept another version of events that’s in their favor.
The sad thing is that this often works.
Toxic people can gaslight others who are forgetful or unsure of themselves, but they can’t do it to you if you defend yourself effectively.
When they claim a version of events that you know to be untrue, let them know that you remember something different happening. You can even pull out proof if you have it.
You don’t even need to be aggressive and attack their version. Simply denying it can take all the wind out of their sails.
4) Control your own emotions
Toxic people can prey on the feelings of others.
They might push buttons to make people angry, tease or disparage them to make them feel bad, or even lie to them to make them feel happy and flattered.
But if you think that someone is toxic and trying to manipulate your feelings, remember who it is that’s actually in control.
Your emotions are your own, and while others can try to affect them, the more emotional control you have, the harder they’ll need to try.
So the next time someone starts to make you feel angry or hurt, take a step back both physically and empathetically and look at how they’re making you feel.
Rather than quickly responding to that emotion by lashing out in anger or retreating in tears, just examine that emotion and try to find the true source of where it’s coming from.
What you’ll discover is that, despite the fact that what they’ve said or done may have triggered a response in you, the emotion has come from inside you alone. It’s yours, and they didn’t put it there – they simply can’t.
This will empower you to learn to control your emotional responses so toxic people can no longer push your buttons.
5) Say no
Saying this one simple word can be incredibly hard to do. But there’s a reason the word exists.
This word represents boundaries and lets others know what you are and aren’t willing to do.
Some people are just toxic because they continually ignore your boundaries or take advantage of their blurriness.
So, saying no is the very best way to define those lines and clearly communicate that you won’t let anything push past them.
I had a friend in college who was always giving people rides. Nice right? The thing was, he was driving people all over the city, not just dropping people off on his way home.
Everyone knew that he wouldn’t say no if they asked for a ride. So many people used him as a chauffeur, and it got quite clear that it was starting to wear him out.
If he had learned to say no, he could have protected himself from all those users. As it was, his car broke down, and he didn’t have the money to get it fixed (probably because it all went into gas for his free shuttle service), so he sold it and started taking the bus.
6) Be unavailable
It’s going to be pretty hard for toxic people to get their claws into you when you’re always unavailable.
Now, there are four ways to avoid someone, though they can all be effective.
You can simply lie and tell them you’re busy or can’t meet up with them when they ask.
You can say nothing at all and just ghost them.
You can tell them directly that you don’t want to spend time with them or meet them.
Or you can just make it true. You can make yourself unavailable by working more, taking on new tasks, adopting hobbies, or spending more time with your partner or family.
I’m not going to suggest which method to choose – you’ll have to pick the right one for you.
But when people can’t get to you, they also can’t get to you, if you know what I mean!
How to Disarm Toxic People
Now that you have these six psychological tricks to disarm toxic people in your life as a part of your arsenal, you should be better prepared to fight toxicity.
When people in your life seem to have an agenda that involves manipulating, tricking, draining, or using you, you need to have ways to protect yourself.
Once you do, no matter how toxic people are, you’ll build up an immunity against them, and they won’t be able to bother you anymore.